Page last updated at 05:56 GMT, Thursday, 25 June 2009 06:56 UK

Public gets more loos to choose

By Kevin Leonard
BBC Wales news website

Three Horseshoes pub
Some 15 businesses in Bridgend county have signed up

Making inquiries about public conveniences while carrying a camera is sure to generate strange looks from bemused shoppers.

But awkward questions are inevitable when you're trying to find out how a scheme to increase the number of public toilets in Wales is faring.

The Welsh Assembly Government has put up £385,000 to encourage businesses such as pubs, hotels and filling stations to open their loos to the general public.

This is because public toilets are closing across the UK at an alarming rate and, although perhaps England has been hit harder, figures suggest the number of public conveniences in Wales fell from 762 in 1995 to 671 in 2005.

I travelled to Bridgend where 15 businesses around the county borough have signed up and more are expected to be recruited.

I soon found myself loitering outside a traditional convenience next to the Rhiw shopping centre, where I was hoping to gauge the views of its clientele.

Simonne Daniel
It's a good idea, especially when people like me or pregnant women need to go
Simonne Daniel

Tony Leach, 43, from Bridgend, thankfully wasn't scared off by me or my colleague, and chatted happily about the state of public toilets in the town.

Mr Leach informed me the Rhiw toilets were "cleaner than usual" but liked the idea of the new scheme, although he had not heard of it despite it starting in April.

Simonne Daniel, 43, was more critical of the Rhiw loos and appeared genuinely excited that facilities allegedly more pleasant on the eye and nose were available.

"I'm not well at the moment and when I've got to go, I've got to go!" she said.

"It's a good idea, especially when people like me or pregnant women need to go. I would rather go to a pub."

Around the corner from the less-than-popular Rhiw toilets, the Three Horseshoes pub is one of the premises to sign up.

Those taking part receive a payment of up to £500 a year and, in return, must keep the toilets clean, display prominent signs advertising the service and allow regular inspections.

Alex Ciesielska
People with children would ask if they could use the toilet and we didn't mind
Alex Ciesielska, pub assistant manager

The pub's assistant manager Alex Ciesielska, 26, said up to around 20 people a day took advantage of the facility - but people used them previously anyway.

"To be honest it's exactly the same as before because the public toilets nearby look clean but some people don't want to use them," she said.

"People with children would ask if they could use the toilet and we didn't mind. Sometimes people would leave money on the bar or buy half a Strongbow because they wanted to use the toilet.

"I think people still don't realise they can use the toilets. They don't know about it."

That was certainly true of everybody I spoke to - not one person had heard about the scheme.

However, Soraya Sunra, 44, from Bridgend, had just spotted the sign displayed in the door of the pub.

"I just noticed the sign now as I was walking round. If I'm walking along, I will use the pub toilet rather than the one around the corner," she said.

Welsh Assembly Government toilet sign
Prominent signs must be displayed in businesses taking part

Bridgend council leader Mel Nott said there had been an "encouraging response" to the scheme and it was hoped more businesses could be recruited.

The British Toilet Association was also in favour, saying that it believed around 40% of UK public toilets had closed within the last 10 years.

Director Mike Bone said: "Provided the scheme is used to offer additional facilities and not as an excuse to close existing ones, I think it's a good idea as it's expanding the provision of public toilets. This is important especially for the young and the elderly."

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